Steven O’Brien

The General

Somewhat after Ray Bradbury


As the muezzin’s dusk call
Sews the day to a new night
The general looks up from his maps.

His damp camouflage
Hangs on his back
Like tired tiger skin
And his diligence stutters,
Along his tapping finger.

Below him the city’s roofs crumble-
Like broken seals
In the spoil of forced tombs.

He cannot decipher this tablet rubble-
The hoarse pedlars
And cloistered women.
Boys with the eyes of girls.
Birth and ancient dusts.

At dawn
A staring burn holds the land.
His soldiers stake their checkpoints
Like nailing a white sheet
Across bazaars and alleys.

But just as surely
New blasts rend the pressed cloth.
And each frantic cortege bolts blood
In fresh scrolls-
An angry psalm
Scrawled across a shroud.

Time was he held such a surety of cordon,
Of staff college logic. The grand scheme.
Pacify, break and build.

Yet this city piled on cities,
He knows it will outstare him.
The courtesies and parleys,
The gutter killings.
Already he feels his bones shifted.

Far from home
He has been dipped in flame.

The Adhan-
Is one last cry of lazuli inlay
Across the rusty sunset.

The general,
Dark now and very golden eyed
Is hastened to his window.

As a green star rises
His chart turns to salt-
A white sift draining through his hand.


Taken from the collection Scrying Stone by Steven O’Brien, published by Greenwich Exchange.

To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive every copy of The London Magazine direct to your door, while enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry. 

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.